LOS ANGELES — The impact of a manager in your typical mundane baseball game is often somewhat overstated. As it pertains to the outcome of an average contest, the manager is, more often than not, pretty unimportant.
But any time you have a game that features four ties, 14 total pitchers and 10 innings, spanning four hours and 18 minutes, the manager’s role is thrust from the margins into the spotlight.
That’s what happened between the Philadelphia Phillies and Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday night. In that bonkers affair, several decisions from Phillies manager Joe Girardi held significant sway — some of which were easy to point out, some of which flew relatively under the radar, some that put the Phillies in trouble and some that brought them closer to their eventual victory.
Let’s break them down.
The bad: Kyle Gibson’s long leash
A familiar 2022 Kyle Gibson trend reared its ugly head on Friday night: The right-hander looks like he’s in cruise control early on, but things quickly go south for him over the course of one inning (in this case, a five-run third), and he’s not quite the same afterward. The Dodgers sent nine men to the plate in the third inning, tagging Gibson for three doubles, a homer, a single and a walk. After carrying a 2-0 lead and a 2.78 season ERA into the frame, Gibson left the inning with a 5-2 deficit and that ERA at 3.93.
Had the score remained 5-2, you probably cut your losses and let Gibson at least eat a few more innings to give a taxed bullpen some relief. But the Phillies roared back to tie it with three runs in the fourth, and there was a brand new ballgame on their hands.
Gibson, however, who had just thrown 30 high-stress pitches the previous inning before having to sit through 29 more — two things that accelerate a pitcher’s fatigue — came back out for the fifth anyway.
Cue: single, groundout, single, flyout, single, and the Phillies immediately trailing again before James Norwood came on in relief. Norwood limited the damage by retiring Trea Turner, but it could have been way worse, and Gibson’s struggles in the fourth forced the Phillies to play from behind again and reversed some much-needed momentum — if you’re into that sort of thing.
The good: Sending Harper in the 10th
It’s not entirely clear how much of this was Girardi’s doing, but we’ll give his coaching staff at large some credit, because a move that went relatively unnoticed ended up paying off big time for the Phillies in extras.
With Bryce Harper on first, the go-ahead run on third and one out in the 10th, Harper took off on Brusdar Graterol’s 1-1 offering to Nick Castellanos. The runner on third in that situation was Roman Quinn. If Castellanos had taken or missed Graterol’s fastball, it’s extremely unlikely Austin Barnes would have thrown down to second anyway. If he had, one of the fastest players in baseball would have had a golden opportunity to steal home. If Barnes hadn’t, Harper would have had a free bag.
As it turned out, Castellanos turned on Graterol’s 100-mph inside fastball for a double down the left field line, and Harper’s headstart allowed him to easily score from first for a pivotal insurance run.
The Phillies lineup is designed to score runs by simply raking, but the ability to manufacture runs the way they did Harper’s will come up huge in games such as Friday’s — tight affairs against good, smart, fundamental teams like the Dodgers. I’m a proponent of activity on the basepaths, and sending Harper in the 10th was an example why — it opened several doors for the Phillies without offering any realistic downside, and it paid off in a big way.
The bad: Giving Jeurys Familia the ninth inning
Corey Knebel, Seranthony Domínguez and José Alvarado were all unavailable, so the Phillies had to piece together one more inning without some of their top options in the bullpen. They’d gotten 4 ⅓ innings of one-run ball from that depleted bullpen; the last 1 ⅔ had come from Nick Nelson, who struck out two and induced consistently weak contact along the way.
Before Friday, Nelson hadn’t thrown since Sunday. He was fresh, and he’d only thrown 18 pitches in those nearly two innings of work. It was obvious, it seemed, that he should start the ninth to try to preserve his team’s 9-7 lead.
Instead, the ball went to Jeurys Familia.
Perhaps it was leadoff hitter Trea Turner’s modest 3-for-17 against Familia that had Girardi optimistic. Justin Turner, though, due up third, was 2-for-4 with a double against the righty — not disastrous, but not particularly encouraging either.
By the end of the night, that number was 3-for-5 with a double and a game-tying two-run homer.
Familia hadn’t allowed a run in his last seven appearances — 6 ⅔ innings of work — but if riding the hot hand was the premise, it’s hard for Nelson not to have been the conclusion. Neutralizing the Dodgers’ potent offense is exceedingly difficult, but Nelson, given that he’d done it up to that point, seemed up to the task. The Phillies had to piece together outs anywhere they could find them on Friday, and Nelson should have been given a stab at the final three. Instead, he wasn’t, and perhaps as a result, an East Coast bedtime that had already eclipsed 2 a.m. was pushed back another half hour.
The good: Letting Francisco Morales ride it out
It didn’t look like it on its face, but Francisco Morales’ performance in the 10th inning is worthy of some extreme praise.
The right hander, understandably shaky as he tried to hold a three-run (effectively two-run) lead in his second-career appearance, issued free passes to the first two batters he faced. Morales was still one away from the three-batter minimum, so there wasn’t much of a choice yet, but Girardi could have made a switch with Morales feeling good after a Mookie Betts double play — or after Freddie Freeman walked in the ensuing plate appearance.
Instead, Girardi stuck with the rookie, rather than turning to Connor Brogdon, who also hadn’t pitched since Sunday and is still working on getting his velocity fully back to where it’s been in years past. Girardi has been questioned quite a bit for his reluctance to let younger players sink or swim — and that questioning has often been justified — but Friday was different.
It would have been easy for Girardi to pull him, but Morales rewarded his faith by earning his first-career save in a situation that was anything but easy. It wasn’t a perfect night for the manager by any means, but Girardi’s last decision of the game was the right one.
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